As vocational problems and priestly scandals continue to arise in some regions of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict today, called for more priests who are fully aware of the gift of grace received in ordination, and of the important mission entrusted to them.
The Pope made his remarks in a message sent to the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), which is currently meeting in Assisi, Italy, from November 14th until tomorrow.
During the meeting, which marks the conference’s 55th general assembly, special attention will be given, among other issues, to the formation of future priests and to the presence of the Church in the world of health care.
"The Church today," the Pope wrote to the bishops, "needs priests who are fully aware of the gift of grace they receive with priestly ordination and with the mission entrusted to them in times of swift and profound changes."
He noted the many priests currently serving in Italy, "who contribute to making our parishes and communities lively and rich in grace," but highlighted his concern, shared with the bishops, "for the drop in numbers of clergy and for the progressive increase in the average age of priests.”
“There is,” Benedict stressed therefore, “an urgent need to boost vocational pastoral care and to define the formative option ever more clearly, so as to guarantee a human, intellectual and spiritual preparation capable of meeting the new challenges that priestly ministry is called to face.”
“It is equally important”, he added, “that such formative activity should be carried out in a community context, in order to reflect that communion of life which Jesus had with His disciples, and to ensure that the various elements of the educational program are unified around the needs of pastoral charity."
According to reports, there are currently around 397,000 priests serving around the world. Church leaders would like to increase that number in order to better serve the Church’s nearly 1.1 billion members.